Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Same-sex attraction

Canada’s Catholic bishops have published an uncompromising pastoral letter on ministry to young people with same-sex attraction that upholds Church teaching on sexuality yet purports by some to show sensitivity to their challenges. The eight-page booklet prepared by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) doctrinal commission and released June 27 comes at a time when publicly funded Catholic schools in Ontario are under pressure from the provincial government’s equity policy.

After reading the Pastoral Letter I felt compelled to write our Bishops as follows:  

I have read the Canadian Bishops Pastoral letter regarding young people with same-sex attraction.  While it may accurately reflect current Church teaching it actually perpetuates the plight of the homosexual.  At the same time it does not offer any insight behind the Church`s position on the subject.  Allow me to preface my concerns and questions against the following true story:  

Several years ago, while my wife and I were still actively involved in a Catholic prayer group, we were confronted by the story of a tragic death involving the son of one of our oldest members. Emotionally torn and upset, Fred (not his real name) shared how this death had deeply affected him on several conflicting levels. Tearfully our eighty plus year old friend and father, revealed how his son’s grief had shown him for the first time how much his son had loved his partner who had now suddenly passed away. Wiping away his tears, Fred admitted to us how guilt and church teachings had taught him that love between two members of the same-sex was wrong. He even expressed how these negative feelings had strained the relationship between him and his son for many years. Perhaps, it was his fault that he had raised a child with homosexual tendencies. Or, maybe God was punishing him for his past sins. He had led quite a rugged life, indifferent to others, and so on. But his son’s grief was so real, so honest and so revealing of a relationship that consisted of a love between two caring and giving individuals. For the first time Fred was able to equate the recent loss of his wife with the loss experienced by his son.  

I don`t think of myself as a modern activist or whatever that label is supposed to mean.  But as a disappointed and disenfranchised Catholic convert (1986) I do feel the need to ask questions about matters of faith, and particularly as it affects the homosexual.  Faith for me is a dynamic which requires a deep and often a challenging sense of justice and compassion. As Christians we need to question our beliefs and not arbitrarily accept what is presented to us.  Questions are more important than answers if we are to grow in faith and remain open to change and miracles.  The belief that we or the Church possess all the answers is the only true heresy!  

The Pastoral letter opens with the honest admission that the Church does not really know the psychological causes behind Same-sex Attraction but then, on the next seven pages its author(s) feel perfectly justified to condemn any sexual activity between homosexual persons by insisting that they accept a life of forced celibacy. Is that not somewhat arrogant? To quote noted Catholic social ethicist Daniel C. Maguire “Voluntary celibacy for a good cause is something some can do, but it was seen as a special talent, a special gift that not all have. The Vatican Council called it “a precious gift of divine grace which the Father gives to some persons,” but not to all. Abstaining from all sexual activity is seen by the council as something “unique.” You cannot demand from all homosexual people that which is “unique”. St. Paul recognizes the same thing when he says, “It is better to marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:9). What kind of Gospel “good news’ would it be to tell all gay persons that their only choice is to “burn, baby, burn”? The view that homosexual people are condemned involuntary celibacy for life is as cruel as it is absurd.”

The claim that the Church’s position on homosexuality is based on scripture and Tradition must also be challenged.  The popular post Vatican II Catholic A New Catechism (1969) states that “the very sharp strictures of Scripture on homosexual practises  (Gen. 19; Rom. 1) must be read in their context. Their aim is not to pillory the fact that some people experience this perversion in culpably.  They denounce a homosexuality which had become the prevalent fashion and had spread to many who were really quite capable of normal sexual sentiments.”  As for Tradition, the Catholic Church has a much longer Tradition honouring same-sex attraction.  Saints Serge and Bacchus, a same-sex couple whose marriage is preserved in a seventh-century icon shows Jesus as the official witness, or best man at their wedding.   

It seems to me that our bishops completely failed to understand homosexuality in the context of the critical distinction between Love and a Sexual Perversion. One must admit that heterosexuals and homosexuals are equally capable of both. If not are the sins of a homosexual somehow greater than that of a heterosexual? So, why this narrow focus by insisting that genital sex between loving homosexual couples are considered ‘acts of grave depravity? Is it simply because homosexuals cannot procreate? Or is it something more sinister in the minds of some? Remember, celibate members of the clergy must not procreate either. Perhaps, this report is intended to support the tortured and unchanging position by the Church, on human sexuality as promoted by St. Augustine or similar views expressed by some conservative Catholics. 
Note (added July 1): Perhaps it was this Augustinian mindset that  brought the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under  Cardinal Ratzinger to issue a document on  Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons'(1986)  which demanded that pastoral care for  homosexuals could  no longer  be tolerated and that Church facilities could not be made available for them because it contradicts Church teachings. A subsequent Notification in 1999 silenced and removed Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent from their care towards the gay and lesbian community.

Award winning religion journalist David Gibson, writes the following about a by-chance encounter between Pope Benedict XVI and  Sr. Jeannine Gramick in his biography ‘The Rule of Benedict’ (2006).
“The issue of homosexuality has always been of great interest to Benedict, who wrote far more about the topic while at the CDF than any other churchman ever had. Characteristically, however, Ratzinger also seems to have formed his judgments with little, if any, real-life interaction with homosexual ,men and  women to inform his views. In a telling exchange,  Sr. Jeannine Gramick, the American nun whom Ratzinger would eventually banish from her ministry to gays and lesbians, ran into Ratzinger by chance on an airplane1 ride from Rome to Bavaria in July 1998. (The cardinal was going to see his brother; the nun was going to pray for aid at the Munich shrine of her order's foundress.)  Gramick struck up a pleasant conversation with Ratzinger, at first not recognizing him and believing him to be a simple priest. When he revealed his identity, they began talking about the issues on which Ratzinger was investigating her. When Gramick asked whether the cardinal had ever met any gay people, Ratzinger replied: "Yes, in Berlin. They were demonstrating against the pope." That Ratzinger's only interaction with homosexuals was at such a remove and under such circumstances does not inspire confidence in his conclusions, nor does it square with the reality that there are many gay priests and bishops, not only in the worldwide church, but most certainly in the Roman Curia itself. That this would be unknown to Ratzinger is either remarkably ingenuous, willfully blind, or simply evidence of the don't ask, don't tell policy that permeates much of clerical life, and in fact can foster sexual dysfunctions of all kinds.”

After finishing the pastoral letter I was left with the following additional questions- Is the supposed sin of a homosexual greater than that of a heterosexual? If not please cease this obsessive persecution immediately. The Church`s present position on homosexuality continues to hurt families and individuals who must bear this burden.  It merely promotes the ongoing hatred for those whose life style is different from ours.    The self effacing emphasis on loving the sinner but not the sin does very little for the victim.
If the Church sincerely believes that the sexual act of a loving homosexual couple is a sin, then how does it differ from a similar sexual act performed by loving heterosexual couples?  Exactly what aspect of the sexual act, when performed by a committed couple in a loving setting, is considered a sin?

Finally, to borrow a phrase from the text of this pastoral letter I believe that in the eyes of God every human person is a unique and irreplaceable gift – however there are many in our Church who do not share that sentiment when it comes to homosexuals.  This negative view is even promoted in the pastoral letter when it is suggested that homosexuals do not fulfill God`s will in their lives.  Agreed, procreation is essential for the continuation of our species but not all heterosexuals can or are able to participate in this part of God`s plan.  Why then punish homosexuals for failing in this regard?  In my search for answers I have learned that homosexuals were held in high regard by some of our native tribes for their artistic abilities.  Why can we not celebrate the gifts homosexuals bring to society instead? 

People are not naturally cruel.  They become cruel when they are unhappy- or when they succumb to an ideology. If religious people had always followed the instinct of their heart rather than the logic of their religion we would have been spared the sight of heretics burning at stakes, widows walking into funeral pyres, and millions of innocent people slaughtered in wars that are waged in the name of God.  Compassion has no ideology.  - Anthony de Mello, 'The Song of the Bird'

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